How can organisations show leadership in tackling youth unemployment?

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Perhaps the years of the mining boom have made Australians complacent, but it seems that many are unaware of the extent of unemployment in Australia, which is likely to increase as the boom dissipates and spending shrinks.Youth unemployment is a particular concern. According to figures released this week, Victoria’s youth unemployment has hit a 15-year high, with outer suburban Melbourne and regional areas particularly affected.

We cannot afford to be complacent about this. The prospect of thousands of young Australians facing years of unemployment raises serious concerns about our social and economic future. A tightening of eligibility for social security payments seems likely only to exacerbate the problem in a situation where job opportunities are limited and many young Australians appear not to have the skills or experience that they need to break into paid employment. It appears that many young unemployed people are applying for job after job, but being turned down due to lack of skills and experience.

It’s all very well to express pious concern, but what can be done? Some business leaders are already working to address the situation. The Centre for Workplace Leadership is currently working with a large company on a leadership development program. This organisation boasts nearly 1,000 franchises across Australia, including hundreds of regional locations. They are a leading employer of Australian youth. While they already employ many young people, organisational leadership wants to do more.

This company recently held a youth forum where participants discussed the issue of factors that contribute to youth unemployment, with a focus on disadvantaged and regional areas. Challenges cited include lack of experience, reduced educational opportunities, lack or expense of transport, relatively low access to healthcare and even failed background or points checks.

Importantly, the organisation then explored what they could do to help. Ideas ranged from site visits and job previews – many youth do not know what a job entails or even looks like – to engaging existing staff members as mentors to simply communicating the importance of your first job.

Smart organisations are recognising that there is a pool of un- or under-utilised young people out there and are working to provide them with opportunities to build skills and gain experience to become part of the workforce for the future.

Peak industry bodies appear to recognise that the punitive policies outlined in the recent federal budget are not likely to fix the problems faced by young jobseekers. Clearly many employers are committed to helping, but more organisations, particularly those in areas with very high rates of youth unemployment, will need to contribute to addressing the problem.

Initiatives which employers can usefully undertake include offering work experience to young jobseekers, many of whom appear have had no direct experience of paid work or knowledge of what a job entails, and partnering with NGOs to provide jobseekers with some combination of skills and work experience. Employers who are willing to mentor young jobseekers can also make a difference. In many cases, this will be no easy task. With many young jobseekers lacking basic skills, experience and knowledge, employers will have to be willing to start from scratch in helping them build their capabilities.

It would be naïve to suggest that the actions of local employers will address the problem in its entirety. It is abundantly clear that the most important factor influencing unemployment levels is jobs growth, which suggests that Commonwealth Government economic management is pivotal. For the moment, however, there is little prospect of massive jobs growth. Moreover, if it was a simple matter to design and implement interventions which would fix the problem, then presumably this would already be happening. Nonetheless, employers who recognise the magnitude of the problem and who are willing to contribute can make a difference.

 

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